dBs Insider

Bobby Borg talks marketing for the DIY musician

It’s a question often asked by the modern-day musician and producer, “How do I get my music out-there and how do I make a career in music?” Well, musician, writer, marketeer and lecturer Bobby Borg has a new book which aims to help musicians get a head start in marketing themselves and connecting their music with an audience. We gave Bobby Borg a call to find out more about the DIY marketing idea, how he got his start in the music industry and the importance of getting a decent education in the music industry.

Bobby Borg and his books for musicians Bobby Borg and his books for musicians

Tell us a bit about yourself...
“I’m a musician first and foremost and was born into a very creative family with my dad being  a designer and a fan of big band music that he would play all over the house. So that kind of inspired me to start playing music. I started drumming out rhythms everywhere I could, so eventually my parents got me a set of bongos and then got drum lessons from about the age of 6 and went on to be practicing for eight-plus hours a day. I decided that this was really something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I moved on, started to study with some amazing drummers in New York and was inspired to go to Berklee College Of Music to get a BA in Professional Music. Then I was signed to atlantic records with a group called Beggars and Thieves, later formed my own group, after that I made a couple of records and toured with a multi-platinum band called Warrant. From there I wrote a few books about the business and started teaching at UCLA, Musicians Institute and so on…"

Tell us about your first book...
"The first book I ever wrote was called The Musician’s Handbook and the reason I wrote that was because I found out very quickly in the industry that people would be coming at me with all these terminologies and business-type stuff. I’d just been working hard on trying to become a great player and a great musician and I didn’t know about all this stuff. Naturally, I went out to try and learn and I couldn’t really find anything that appeared to be written by musicians, for musicians. Every book or resource was written by a lawyer and seemed to just be one lawyer trying to show off to other lawyers about how much they know!”

So what was the reason for the new books, Business Basics For Musicians and Music Marketing For The DIY Musician?
“Back when I wrote the first book it was just to make things explainable in plain English for the musician audience. Now, the new books are written because you have to know this information and have this experience before you can even make a go of it in the industry. So the catalyst has changed for the books, you could say.

"In Music Marketing For The DIY Musician, the first thing is important to realise is what marketing actually is. Marketing isn’t something that happens after your music is ready, it begins at the inception of an idea with a vision. You need to have a clear idea of where you want to go and what you want to do first. Marketing isn’t just advertising or promotion, they are subsets of it. The first step is having something unique, an original that you want to promote. The Business Basics For Musicians Book is more about the actual deals you’ll get in your music career. Agents, record labels, lawyers, managers, publishing deals.  Those are the things that it focuses on. The key takeaway from the first chapter in this book is making sure you really do want to be in the music industry, because for most people they give up too soon, they have false expectations of how quickly they are going to find success or sustainability in the business. The idea is to go out there, build some momentum on your own and then hopefully the managers and labels and the rest will come. You need to have realistic expectations of where you are at in your career."

Any other mistakes musicians make early on in their career?
“I think it’s worth stating again just how long it usually takes to get a foothold. Don’t give up. Most people are working away for 10 or more years before they get their break. Also, when that comes and you do start getting labels, publishers and managers interested in working with you, slow down. It’s easy to panic and think that these opportunities are the only ones you’ll get. But, the first deals you get are not always going to be the best deals anyway. Every opportunity has a cost and you just have to balance it out. How many years are you contracted for? Do you get an advance? You just have to look at the opportunity and what you are gaining from it versus the cost.

"Remember that it’s not always what you earn, it’s what you learn. Saying no to an opportunity because you wanted £200 and the promoter only wants to give £100 might be a stupid idea, because what is that extra £100 going to do to change your life? Not very much, but the gig could be the thing you needed to gain fans, experience and get your foot in the door. In the beginning you have to pay some dues for your lack of professional experience."

But there are promoters and people out there exploiting that idea of exposure though…
“That’s true, but until everyone says no to these types of gigs, you’re going to have to weigh up the opportunity because there’ll always be someone else that will say yes. This is showbusiness, if you can’t show, then there’s no business. You can’t talk a big game if you don’t have one!”

Do you think the Internet has been only negative for the music industry?
“There’s lots of advantages of the internet. I don’t see it just as a device for enabling people to steal music and kill the music industry. I see it as a tool where artists have so much more autonomy from labels. Artists can now, mix, master and release music directly to their fans, which previously used to be a very complex procedure. The downside to this of course is that we are now swamped with people doing this and you have guys who were a mailman yesterday and now they decided they’re a rapper, DJ or rockstar. God bless them for pursuing what they want to do with their life, but you’re fighting for space and to get noticed with a lot of people who maybe wouldn’t have actively pursued music if it hadn’t become so easy. Once you get to a point where you know your worth and have a track record of putting on a good show, or writing great music, you just have put your foot down and separate yourselves from people with less experience.”

How important do you think it is to have an education or qualification in music?
Oh I’m a complete advocate of education in this business and I’m a lifelong learner. I’ve been a student my whole life and I’m currently studying for a Masters Degree. I think it’s more important than ever in the new music business where there’s much more emphasis on artists and musicians running their own business. To be more specific about music education, I mean, why not? Why try and figure it out on your own when there are so many amazing people teaching and willing to share their knowledge with you. More importantly it’s about attending places with like-minded people. When I went to Berklee College Of Music, I didn’t need to go to learn how to play the drums. But Berklee gave me connections, friends, discipline and all those other things you don’t get by teaching yourself. Those connections I made there were the reason I got my first record deal and started my career. I wouldn’t have got that by watching tutorials on YouTube!”

Bobby Borg’s new books Music Marketing For The DIY Musician and Business Basics For Musicians are out now. 


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